A Tunisian court sentenced in absentia former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, whose ouster helped inspire uprisings in the region, to 15 1/2 years in prison for charges that include possession of drugs and weapons, Judge Touhami El Hafi announced today.
Earlier in the day, two court-appointed lawyers stormed out of the hearing after their request for the court to adjourn was denied. “I decided to ask for an adjournment in order to contact my client and even go to Saudi Arabia to meet him in the next few days,” said Hosni Beji, one of the lawyers.
Ben Ali and his wife, Leila Trabelsi, were convicted in absentia on June 20 of appropriating state funds and sentenced to 35 years in prison.
Ben Ali also faces separate charges including the murder of demonstrators and conspiring against the internal security of the state. Protests against Ben Ali’s rule culminated in his Jan. 14 flight to exile in Saudi Arabia. The outcome encouraged popular uprisings across the Middle East that drove out Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and are continuing in Libya, Syria and Yemen.
Ben Ali’s French lawyer, Jean-Yves Le Borgne, has called the case against his client a “farce.”
“Forced to take on the role of scapegoat based on lies and injustice, President Ben Ali has decided not to remain silent,” Le Borgne said June 6 in an e-mailed statement. “The case against him is just a farce whose only goal is to represent a symbolic break with the past.”
The trial came after authorities said they discovered cash, jewelry, weapons and drugs at two palaces after Ben Ali left the country.
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